88: Why Do We Bother?

"'It's really, really not just time-wasting,' I interject, beginning a spiel which any long-suffering enthusiast will recognize. 'Games are incredibly complex now, they're compelling, they're edifying. We haven't been spending our time just making more and more versions of Tetris. People are creating real art, these days. Games are as intelligent a leisure pursuit as anything else.'
The living room resounds with familiar, tolerant laughter. My aunt shakes her head, smiling, and leans forward in her chair. 'Come on, Kelly,' she says, looking about as mischievous as a middle-aged and middle-class Edinburgh woman can manage, 'you can't possibly say things like that and expect to be taken seriously.'"

Why Do We Bother?

I'm reminded of the beginning of Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics.. In it, he speaks of his earliest experiences with comics, how at first be believed them all to be worthless superhero garbage. Eventually a friend persuades him to give comics another chance and he falls in love with the craft. On the next page he concedes that most of what's out there is poorly written and crudely drawn, but comics don't have to be that way.

If you look at any medium, most of what you'll find is worthless but there is the occasional truly amazing thing out there. How many truly godawful movies does it take before we get one as good as [insert your choice for best movie ever]. How many comics are written before we read one as thoughtful and heartfelt as Maus or as complex, nuanced and intricate as Watchmen? Novels were originally treated as a worthless form of entertainment just like video games are today. I haven't done any research but I bet most art forms were not instantly accepted to be worthwhile and even then were still filled with worthless iterations.

It's amazing because the modern forms of cinema, television, video games and comics are all relatively new art forms and we get to live in a time where we can witness the growth of them. It's a time when change is sweeping us and it's going to take a while before the general public gets on board.

One of these days, scholars will look at the origins of the artforms, perhaps asking students to slog through the primitive games of the past, looking for meaning and insight into culture. Even know, video games are quite diverse. The games I play come from all over Europe, Japan and Korea, even such obscure countries as Croatia. There's something awesome here and at some point, we'll all accept it as great but until then, it's our art form to love and cherish.

Good article.

This is a good look at the issue of the games as a worthwhile medium from an enthusiast perspective, however, to the rest of the world a better case is needed. To an avid game enthusiast like me, the merits of the medium are clear and the article simply lays out what most of us already knew. It is nice to see someone articulate it far better than most of us could ever hope to though.

I worked in the game industry for 8 years right out of college. I've always loved the diversion from real life. That's all it really is, a diversion. There are artistic merits within the diversion, but none that really benefit anything outside of the diversion itself. We've seen games crossover to other diversions like movies and books, but essentially provide the same benefits in a different medium. I cannot make the case for this diversion to others. It's similar to when I try to explain to non-hockey enthusiasts why I like the sport of hockey. Just because I tell someone what I like, doesn't make it any more palatable to that person. Oftentimes what we enjoy comes from early experiences that leave positive impressions in our mind, so we spend the rest of our lives in that comfort zone.

So what about the social impact of violent or anti-social games on impressionable youths? I see the industry and enthusiasts disregard these questions all the time as paranoia or fanaticism. The truth I think is somewhere in between. I do believe that the constant exposure to violence, sex, and drugs in the media does have a negative impact on all of us, not just kids. I will not defend the industry when it puts out titles like GTA, but I do encourage parents to be proactive and understand the rating system printed on the boxes (and God forbid, actually play the game for a 20 minutes before they hand it to their child). The game mechanics were phenomenal in GTA, but what, if anything, does the theme say about the person behind the controller? Does fantasizing about being a gun wielding thug who takes whatever he needs in his environment while carelessly trampling bystanders mean that I am one? Not at all. It's a game. I just as enthusiastically enjoy gunning down terrorists and rescuing hostages in Rainbow 6. There is something about the theme that makes it exciting though. You take the same game mechanics and apply a more modest theme and I guarantee your paying audience will shrink. So what is it that makes those games so appealing to us? I don't claim to have the answer, because I think the answer is different for everyone. Postal, a poorly produced game with similar adult themes to that of GTA hardly broke into GTA's numbers. If anything, the people who bought it were merely interested in the controversial content, not because they expected quality game mechanics, character development, or plotline.

Excuse me while I go jack in to World of Warcraft for a few hours...

It's really annoying to have to justify my interests to people who have never had theirs questioned. Why do people like football or NASCAR? What's so great about the theater? Why would somebody spend so much money on front-row tickets to some band?

And it's not like any answer I give will be good enough.

Besides, people like games for different reasons. My arguments would lean towards the very human desire for good stories, reaching all the way back to orally transmitted tales of the ancient world. And in the modern world, video games allow us to become a part of these stories and effect their outcome, thereby enhancing their impact upon us.

Somebody who's only contact with gaming involves annual Madden purchases, on the other hand, would say something else. Perhaps there are arguments to be made for the digital realm leveling the playing field for competitions that would normally sift away the physically inept.

But in general, I'm just happy that video games haven't been overcome by the vicious paranoia that nearly destroyed my other love, comic books, back in the '50s.

Eventually, I think people will shut up about it. Nobody still stands on the pulpit trying to burn down the comic book industry for perverting our youth -- but that's not enough. We're looking for acceptance of our chosen media, not just a lack of vocal condemnation. And where that lies, well... hopefully we'll figure it out.

We just need to play the waiting game. Soon videogames will be recognized for their brilliance as an art form, with our own pretentious morons who ask, 'What is double jump?'. In the meantime, brilliant minds like Shigeru Miyamoto and Tim Schafer will keep us entertained with bold new forays into the realm of interactive storytelling.

That excerpt up there is almost verbatim a conversation my fiancee and I had with her aunt. No manner of argument could convince her, as the most complex game she knows of is Wolfenstein 3D. Videogames are pasttimes for children, and shouldn't we be doing something constructive?
I even tried the "what about games that have been made into movies?" using examples such as Silent Hill to prove my point. My fiancee's aunt admitted she hadn't considered the possibility that a game could contain in itself a compelling narrative and strong visual themes - but while she acknowledged the possibility, she also disregarded the reality by suggesting that there was no way a game had that level of storytelling or horror (i.e.: Hollywood just made all that stuff up based on a game where, presumably in her mind, you wander around and kill monsters dressed like Nazis with a chainsaw) and maintained the course that games aer childish, timewasting pursuits.
I think the only thing that held her back from a full tirade was when I asked her how much time she spends playing Minesweeper.

As long as developers continue to strive for creativity and depth in their games, the public will eventually recognise them as an artform.
The flipside of this is that in order to garner sales, developers are often reigning in creativity in order to jump on whatever bandwagon is most profitable at the time. For every Psychonauts or Bioshock, there are ten Blacksite's or MOH's. Art will never be created when number crunching is involved.

Hah, the idea of the Silent Hill movie being more complex than the game is quite amusing... (for the recond I did love the movie, but it really didn't have the characterisation depth of the game) Still, the movie argument isn't so compelling when you consider many previous game-to-movie conversions. Personally I still shy away from calling games "art" or "intelligent", and perfectly understand the derogative attitude people have towards them. The fact is most gamers are not appreciaters of art and are not hugely intelligent, and most games cater towards them. Games are usually either centred around violence or centred around simple fun, with art usually being some secondary consideration (or more often not considered at all). It would be nice to see more games with deep and dramatic stories that don't have action-orientated gameplay.

 

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